........................................................................................................................................................................................

Subscribe to the Journal, call 505-823-4400

























          Front Page




ABQ High School Competency Scores Hit 3-Year Low

By Russell Contreras
Journal Staff Writer
    The percentage of Albuquerque 10th-graders who passed the state's high school exit exam fell to a three-year low last year, officials announced this week.
    Around 71 percent of 10th-graders in Albuquerque Public Schools passed all parts of the New Mexico High School Competency Exam during the 2003-2004 school year. That's a five-point drop from the previous year, when 76 percent of Albuquerque high school sophomores passed all parts of the exam. During the 2001-2002 year, 77.5 percent passed all parts.
    Rose-Ann McKernan, director of APS Research, Development and Accountability, said the district's drop mirrors a similar decline across the state. "It's a statewide phenomenon we can't explain," she said.
    Statewide, only 65 percent of sophomores passed all portions of the exam in 2003-2004. The previous year, around 69 percent passed.
    The exam— which tests students in basic math, science, social studies, reading, writing and language arts— is administered to New Mexico students for the first time in 10th grade. It is given in English and Spanish.
    According to state law, students are required to pass all parts of the exam in order to receive a high school diploma. Students can retake any of the "subtests" during the 11th grade and 12th grade, if needed.
    Students who don't pass all parts of the exam but finish all high school coursework are given a "certificate of completion" instead of a diploma. Those students are classified as "13th-graders" and have up to five years after completing high school to retake subtests.
    The exam is not part of the state's school-ranking system required by the federal No Child Left Behind act.
    McKernan said the district's declining dropout rate may have played a role in the drop in 10th graders passing the exam. She said, in the past, high school dropouts were leaving school before taking the exam. McKernan added that some students just "panic" on test day, while others need additional remedial work.
    Of APS' 11 traditional high schools, Rio Grande High School had the lowest percentage of 10th-graders passing all portions of the tests. Forty-three percent of the school's 10th-graders passed the exam the first time.
    La Cueva High School had the highest percentage in APS with 93.5 percent passing.
    The percentage of 10th-graders passing also varied along ethnic and racial lines. Anglo 10th-graders led with an 85.5 percent passing rate. Native Americans had the lowest with 51 percent.
    Fifty-eight percent of Latino 10th-graders and 56 percent of African-American sophomores passed the exam.
    Last month, state Secretary of Education Veronica C. Garcia said if the achievement gap isn't closed soon, the state risks "a new type of segregation."
    "Earning a high school diploma is an extremely important accomplishment for all members of society," said Garcia. "We cannot deny even one student the opportunity of reaching this critical milestone."
    McKernan said that most universities in New Mexico will accept students with a "certificate of completion."
    In addition, private school students in New Mexico aren't required to take the New Mexico High School Competency Exam to receive a diploma.
    APS board member Leonard DeLayo said private schools are getting a free pass. "You can call it a high school degree for sale."